Just three years after its founding in 2011 SOL Republic sells its headphones and accessories in 20,000 and 56 countries. The company, whose co-founders cut their teeth at the company that developed industry leader Beats by Dr. Dre, is a walking demonstration of how quickly a smart marketing strategy can create a global brand almost overnight.
The company, whose acronym stands for Soundtrack Of Life, says it’s the fastest-growing headphones brand, though it hasn’t yet matched sales of industry leaders Beats, Bose, Sony, Skullcandy and JVC, according to NPD Group’s Retail Tracking Service. There’s plenty of room for another player; NPD says sales U.S. stereo headphone sales reached $2.3 billion in 2013.
Kevin Lee, his former frat brother Seth Combs, and Scott Hix created SOL Republic to bring the exquisite sound of premium headphones to more affordable products. The starting price of the company’s JAX line of in-ear headphones is $39.99, $60 less than the urBeats line from Beats by Dr. Dre.
But most important, Seth emphasized in a recent interview with us, the three founders infused the company with their love of music. That enthusiasm has an impact on everything they do, especially building their brand. And it made SOL Republic devote much of its marketing efforts and investment (Seth won’t say exactly how much) to social marketing in general and influencer marketing in particular. The company, for example, introduced itself with a Facebook-based campaign – before it launched its own web site.
Your company adopted influencer marketing from the start. Where did you start?
Where can you go in San Francisco on a Friday night and listen to music? The DJs are the modern day preacher. They tell you when to sit, when to stand and when to kneel. So we started with them.
Why did you decide to include athletes among your Saviors of Sound influencers?
We didn’t know if we wanted athletes right away. We heard the surfer Julian Wilson loved our product, so we said, “Let’s go to dinner with him and get an idea of what he’s about.” By the end of the night, we knew this is a guy who loves old school rap. He loves music. He actually uses it to help him get focused and get centered for his next match.
It really opened our eyes.
What’s the connection between music and athletes in your eyes?
You watch any type of sports event – music surrounds it. Music is universal. Musicians have this incredible power. Music will resonate with us for centuries. Athletes are who we aspire to be – that perfection on the field or on the court or on the ice.
Always the strategic plan from square one was to include music and athletic influencers. It happened sooner than we’d planned.
Your group of athlete-influencers is heavy on skateboarders, surfers, snowboarders and moto X competitors. They all seem vaguely in the same family. Then there’s swimmer Michael Phelps. How’d he become part of this group?
We had heard he liked our headphones. When he came back for the 2012 Olympics, we said, “Why don’t we raise some money for a charity of your choosing?” We raised $50,000 and he became a Savior of Sound.
Are athletes moving the needle for you in terms of sales and brand awareness?
I absolutely think they do. They are guys that love, love love our head phones. Seeing an athlete that’s so jacked up over our head phone – it’s as good as it gets for us.
Authenticity: There’s no way to pay these individuals to love a brand. We give them our headphones, and if you don’t love it, we don’t want to work with you.
People understand that. I’ve had a number of athletes we’ve turned down because of it. Understand the power authenticity. It will trump any dollars you would spend to endorse.
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